When DJ Asen James and artist Grey Williamson decided to create something out of what was once a gentleman’s social club on the garden level of a brownstone, there was no definitive plan. They did not know that actors, musicians and playwrights, among others, would come to count on this atmosphere of soul.
From the gate, you knew something special was waiting behind the iron bars of this garden apartment in the heart of Bed-Stuy. First, you had to know the address. Then you’d knock on the window, praying someone could hear you over the funk and laughter inside. Once someone, anyone, let you in, you’d enter another door before opening the heavy velvet curtains, revealing ‘cool as a fan’ cats who came dressed… to chill.
The pretty bartender would serve your favorite drink or some version thereof, but the best choices were the house specials: The Diabolo, made with real strawberries, or a Silver Lightning with pineapples, both made with corn liquor.
This was a real speakeasy. There are a few establishments in Manhattan that claim the cool and pretense of this term, but like the speakeasies in the Prohibition era, Cloud’s beautiful antique interiors may have actually been from the 1930s.
There was no liquor license, no cabaret license, and smoking was tolerated.
“It was like old New York,” said 29-year-old Kitty Hawk, who hosted a party there called Young Love. “It was reminiscent of whatever you think a juke joint is. You might find an amazing person singing, you might see your favorite rapper in the corner or it might be just 10 people there that night. But, it was an experience every time.”
Sahr Ngaujah, Emmy-nominated star of Fela On Broadway, said he misses the conversion of people.
“After the show, I’d hang out in downtown Manhattan, then head to Bed-Stuy,” recalled Ngaujah. “I love that no matter what time I got there, usually no earlier than 3 o’clock in the morning, it was always happening. There was such a great cross-section of personalities. Cloud was my last stop before home,”
It was Kitty Hawk and Bed-Stuy musician Brian Satz who brought live music to this occasion with artists like the breath-taking Tarrah Reynolds, the vocal enchantress Abena Koomsen, and Aloe Blacc.
It wasn’t just a bar, it was a community,” said Satz. “I thought it was a cool place for musicians to perform because the intimacy provided the opportunity to create something beautiful between the artist and the listener.”
In November 2010, Cloud in the Stuy came to an end after just over one year. Despite being several months removed from the community, its revelers miss it.
“I think about how much the music moved me and how it was great that is was tucked away in Bed-Stuy,” said educator Jonell Myers. “I wrote on my Facebook status two weeks ago about how much I miss Cloud and the blue light.”